I had this idea to find the least famous Reds teams that have ever taken the field. So, I started with most common lineups for the starting 8 position players, as listed on fangraphs. (In other news, that page is great). I then started to list all the awards, all-star appearances, and times leading the league in a few categories (AVG, HR, RBI, SB), for each player for all the years before that particular year. So, for example, Joey Votto pops up as very un-famous, indeed, in 2009, but doesn’t, obviously, in 2011. I then picked out the teams that had 6 or more players (out of 8), with no awards or all-star appearance
s or titles. That left me with about 20 teams, so I also took out the teams that had a player with 5 or more awards, etc. At that point, you have a bonified super famous dude on your team, so you no-longer qualify for non-fame. That left me with 10 teams, which is a little more reasonable.
It’s not a perfect system, obviously. Lots of players have name recognition without winning any awards. Additionally, there’s a time frame issue. There are more awards, by far, now, than there were 100 years ago. In fact, I only started looking with the 1934 team, because the All-Star game started in 1933. Even so, with only a few years of MVP awards, and a couple All-Star selections, the 1930s teams still show up with a disadvantage. Then again, there were fewer teams in 1934, so it evens out a little bit.
Here’s the list:
Obviously, the ’30s dominate, which may be an unfair aspect of the system I made up, but before 1934, Lombardi had yet to do anything much worth talking about, compared to his batting title and MVP award of the later part of the decade. But, for example Kampouris, Riggs, Myers, and Goodman were all close to rookies in 1935, so they hadn’t established any kind of fame.
Then, the late 40s, and early 50s appear a lot. The Reds were really terrible in this era, and the oddness caused by WWII in MLB were not too far behind us. Kluzewski, obviously, is famous in terms of Reds histor, and at least for a few of these years, he was off the general radar, but in 1953, for example, he had OPSed .892 the year before, and even got a couple MVP votes, so he probably wasn’t totally unknown. Still, by my arbitrary made-up rules, mighty Klu didn’t get an all-star nod until 1953 itself. Still, guys like Virgil Stallcup, Bob Usher, and Lloyd Merriman were fairly forgettable.
Of course, the 60s and 70s are going to get a total miss on the non-fame-meter. But I think the more recent teams are interesting. Especially, the 1988 team, which is the only one on the list with a winning record. It’s not too hard to see how that happened. The 1988 team obviously had a great bullpen, but their lineup was pretty solid, too. Larkin and Davis later went on to be stars of various magnitudes, and so did Paul O’Neill, just on a different team. Kal Daniels also had a great season, though Daniels doesn’t really trip the fame alert even over the course of his career.
I also love that 2009 shows up. Like I said earlier, this was before Votto got famous, and Phillips and Bruce have since developed some more famous-ness. But the Rosales-Janish-Nix bit does make me facepalm a bit.
It’s worth noting, though, that a lot of these teams show up because they have a lot of young players, and they often presage some really good teams. The Reds won the NL pennant in 1939 and 1940, won the World Series in 1990, and won the NL Central two years out of the three after 2009. So, maybe being un-famous is just a sign of good things to come. (Or not, absolutely nothing good happened to the Reds in the ’50s, afterall)